Rare Autobiography by Omar Ibn Said, An Enslaved West African Scholar

The Library of Congress has recently discovered a rare manuscript, an autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, a slave hailing from West Africa.

The autobiography is 15 pages long, and is written in Arabic. He describes his life in West Africa, in a place called Futa Toro, between modern-day Senegal and the Gambia.

Omar Ibn Said was a wealthy man, and a practising Muslim, praying five times a day, fasting in Ramadan, and giving zakat. He documented the names of his teachers, saying that he had sought knowledge for 25 years.

In 1807, he was captured and brought by ship to South Carolina, where he was badly beaten and abused by the man who had bought him. He ran away, and was jailed. Eventually, he ended up in North Carolina,  in the house of someone called General John Owen, whose brother was the governor of the state.

Omar Ibn Said owned a copy of the Qur’an and the Bible. Although he was baptised to fulfil the social norms around him, he filled his autobiography with verses from the Qur’an and mentions of Allah. In his Bible, he wrote phrases such as, “All good is from Allah,” indicating that he had never really left Islam, despite what he had to do to conform. He died in 1864, only one year before slavery was abolished.

You can view the digital copy of his autobiography here. You can read the original article here.

Living the Ihya in South Africa – Shaykh Seraj Hendricks Full Interview

Are We Beyond Slavery? Not even close.

Interview with Shaykh Mohammad Ba-Dhib, Scholar-in-Residence

Syeda Husain from SeekersHub Toronto interviews our newest scholar-in-residence, Shaykh Mohammad Abu Bakr Ba-Dhib.

Shaykh Mohammad Ba-Dhib, sits in his brightly lit office and waits for me to begin the interview. We have another brother present, a student named Abdullah waiting to assist us if a translation is required. Shaykh smiles at me and I ask if I can record the interview for my own notes and record. He obliges.

I tell him that I will be asking questions about his childhood, and chosen path of Islamic studies. He laughs a little nervously.

I know that the newest resident-scholar of SeekersHub was born in Shibam, Hadramawt, Yemen. He is not much older than me but has published over 70 books in theology, Islamic Fiqh, Islamic history, Arabic literature, Arabic poetry. His accomplishments might intimidate me if it wasn’t for his warm smile and approachable demeanour.

I begin by asking Shaykh Mohammad about his favourite subject in all the topics he has studied, researched and written of. He tells me enjoys the history of Hadith, and particularly the biography of the Fuqaha and Muhaddit’hain. Shaykh Mohammad tells me that he was always inclined towards learning in the Islamic tradition. He was but eight years old and had memorized the last quarter of the Holy Qu’ran. He loved going to madrassa after school for the Maghrib prayer, and would stay to study of his own volition. When many children are commanded by their parent to sit, listen, learn and recite, Shaykh Muhammad was eager to be immersed in this Prophetic tradition.

Shaykh Mohammad was an excellent student and so much that even in his youth, his peers named him “Shaykh Badiyya” after their teacher because of his mature disposition and affinity for learning in the Islamic Sciences.

His Studies

As the youngest of five boys (his eldest brother is 22 years older) I wonder whether his parents encouraged him to pursue his passion for Islamic studying. He laughs heartily.

I rephrase my question and wonder whether his father wanted him to be an engineer or a doctor, because he was always such a high achieving student in all subjects.

“A pharmacist or a doctor,” he says with a shining smile. “[Initially] My father was against me.”

He moved to Saudi Arabia when he was 12 years old and studied with one of the greatest Shaykhs of that time, Shaykh Umer Jadahi Sadaat. Shaykh Muhammad wanted to go to study at Al-Ahqaf University in Tarim, Yemen, which only began running programs and classes in 1996. Naturally, his father had some reservations about the institution as it had only recently been established.

The teachers at the university recited Fatiha and not long after, his father had an operation. During his recovery, he went to the the teachers and they helped encourage him to give his son his blessing.

Shaykh Muhammad is the proud father of three children, two teenage sons ( one of whom is already Hafiz) and a very young daughter. He tells me that he would support his children’s decision to enrol in traditional Islamic studies. In fact, he would even prefer if one of them chose that path. I notice that he does not discriminate between genders of his children. I ask him about the perceived lack women in Islamic Scholarship, and if there women on the path of seeking knowledge. Shaykh Muhammad sits up and for a moment looks serious. I understand this is to emphasize the importance of what he will clarify. “I have taken Ijaazat from Syeddat (female teachers)!”

Female Scholarship

Shaykh Mohammad tells me about one of his own teachers and mentors, Dr. Attiya Arab, who granted him Ijaaza in Hadith. She taught at the University of Karachi and comes from a long line of scholars who have contributed immensely to Islamic Scholarship. She has Ijaaza in teaching the Isnad from Shaykh Maymani. Her father is Maulana Khalyl Al-Yamani.

This is also of significance. At Aligarh Islamic University in India, there is a council of Arabic and Islamic studies which publishes a special edition of a journal. One issue includes the entire treatise that Dr. Attiya Arab wrote. The point of sharing this is to illustrate that great scholars are certainly taught by women.

Shaykh Mohammad’s craving for knowledge not only took him to Tarim, but to Beirut, Lebanon. He completed his PhD in Theology from Aligarh University in India. Over a four-year period, he completed his doctorate in the History of Hadhrami Scholars in India, while travelling back to the Middle East.

He grins and tells me that butter chicken was his favourite dish. I smile knowingly, because who among the most pious people and greatest minds, does not love juicy chicken pieces smothered in a creamy savory sauce?

“After that?” I ask.

“Parathas, with ghee” he replies very quickly. We digress from the usual interview questions and Shaykh Muhammad tells me that in Yemen, there is a similar type of bread called “barowtha”. I am beginning to get hungry.

I ask Shaykh Mohammad about his experiences in India. He tells me that after Makkah, Madinah and Yemen, India is a spiritual place full of Islamic tradition, and I can see that it is very close to his heart.

He describes a very precious memory to me, as I listen keenly. Shaykh Mohammad is the type of teacher who makes you want to catch every word he says.

“When I was in India, the laundry man … how do you say…”

“Dhobi?” I offer.

“Yes,” he grins “Dhobi! The dhobi used to iron my clothes – 2 Rupees per piece, and he used coal in the iron…:”

“He used coal?” I asked incredulously.

I look at Brother Abdullah to make sure that the words are correct in English. He nods and they exchange a few sentences in Arabic. Brother Abdullah smiles and confirms. “Yes, they use coal.”

Shaykh Muhammad asks Brother Abdullah to Google it. He does. I am fascinated by this information, and also feeling a slight bit sheepish because I had no idea they put coal in irons.

But this incredibly knowledgeable Shaykh, remembers the 80-something year old ‘Dhobi’ who pressed his clothes over four years. He remembers him well. I wonder if the coal ever stained his clothes. But Shaykh Mohammad is pristine and I immediately feel a pang of guilt for assuming that the Dhobi wouldn’t be anything but phenomenal in his professional work.

I appreciated how Shaykh Ba-Dhib recollected this memory, something small that is ample yet meaningful, a poignant reminder of his personality and character.

Often, we see our teachers and our Shuyukh as people who are larger than life. They espouse knowledge, wisdom and are often our guides to betterment. But there are always the moments when their personalities shine through and we get an opportunity to see them as part of the Umma, as former students who struggled, as those striving to follow in the path of the Prophetic tradition, as people who remember their journeys with gratitude and reflection.

Earning a PhD in Theological studies is not a simple task. Taking in the surroundings in a foreign country with so much positivity is no small feat. This is one of the small lessons I have picked up from our hour-long conversation.

Advice to Students

Shaykh Mohammad guides students to have a clear focus. He is very ready to offer a lot of practical advice.

“Students should have a plan,” he reiterates. “So they do not get distracted.” Shaykh Mohammad believes that being goal-oriented is important in many things, particularly in higher studies.

He has not only shown this from a very young age, but continues to exemplify this today. He is of the highest calibre of teachers and brings a sound understanding and personality to SeekersHub.

I make a mental note to bring butter chicken to the next community event.

Shaykh Emad Effat – Shaykh of the Revolution, Martyr of al-Azhar

Dr H. A. Hellyer remembers Shaykh Emad Effat seven years on from his death.

Seven years ago today, Shaykh Emad Effat died of a gunshot wound when Egyptian soldiers clashed with demonstrators – of which Shaykh Emad was one – protesting against the country’s military leaders in downtown Cairo. He became known as “Shaykh al-Thawra” (the shaykh of the revolution) and “Shaheed al-Azhar” (the martyr of the Azhar). Seven years on, I still ponder a great deal about Shaykh Emad, what he represented, what lessons he taught those of us who believed in the January 25th revolution of Egypt, and the roles that religious leaders play today in the region from whence he came.

The Azhari

Shaykh Emad was an Azhari shaykh, in the old mold of what it meant to be an Azhari ‘alim (scholar). He earned several degrees: the first in Arabic language from Ain Shams University, the second in Shari‘a at the Azhar University, and then a diploma in Islamic jurisprudence, also from al-Azhar University. Before his more extensive studies in the Islamic tradition, he was more sympathetic to an ultra-conservative form of Salafism – but in his 20s, shifted to a more mainstream Sunnism.

He taught in the old rooms of the Azhar mosque, in a very traditional manner – and upheld the traditional methodology (minhaj) of the Azhari collective of learning. That meant, as Imam al-Saffarini describes it in his Lawami’ al-Anwar, the two major schools of theology (the Ash‘aris and the Maturidis), the minor school (the Athari or Hanbali) of theology, the Sunni schools of law, and Sufism. That is historically normative Sunnism, and the largest body of Muslims historically have followed precisely that. I’m not aware if Shaykh Emad was a member of a specific tariqa (Sufi order) – I do know that he taught texts from the orders, including the famous Hikam (Aphorisms) of Ibn Ata’illah, a luminary of the Shadhuli order of Sufis.
Shaykh Emad Effat
And at the same time, he was a deep believer in contextualization, in the finest tradition of his Azhari upbringing. As his student, Ibrahim al-Houdaiby mentioned of him, “The shaykh greatly respected expertise and listened closely to experts in all fields and gladly sought the advice of social studies specialists before expressing his opinion on something in their field. He criticized “preachers” and “shaykhs” who talk about God’s religion without being qualified.” How few, it seems, that pay genuine attention to this important note today, despite it resonating through the ages from various ‘ulama.

The Hasani and the Husayni

Shaykh Emad was also a member of the official Azhari establishment. By that, I mean he engaged in a rather direct fashion with officialdom writ large. From 2003 until his death, Shaykh Emad held the position of “amin al-fatwa,” or the “director of religious verdicts” at Egypt’s Dar al-‘Ifta – a part of the state’s Ministry of Justice, which issued religious verdicts to citizens and state departments that requested them. One of his most beloved teachers was the then grand mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa’.

But there was another aspect to Shaykh Emad Effat – and it was the aspect that led him to protest against the military leaders of Egypt in late 2011.

Ironically, one of the most vivid testimonies to that came from the grand mufti, who was immensely critical of that aspect of him. As Dr Waleed Almusharaf recalls, in a piece that deserves to be read again and again: “He never asked my opinion on going down to [Tahrir] square,” said the Grand Mufti, “He blamed me for not going there myself. He would say of it: ‘the air around Tahrir now, is purer to me than the air around the Kaaba.’ I criticized him for the statement.”

His widow, Nashwa Abdel-Tawab, said, “During sit-ins at Tahrir Square [in January and February of 2011, when the revolutionary uprising broke out], he would go to work in the morning and spend the night in the square.” Shaykh Emad believed in that revolution – as a way to “enjoin the good and forbid the evil,” as the Qur’anic verse stipulates. During the day, he would continue his work, as an ‘alim that was part of the official state apparatus. And at night, he went to Tahrir Square, and called for accountability of that same state apparatus. He saw no contradiction in that – but he did so on the basis of principle.

A dear friend of mine, bore witness to the fact that at one time he was in Shaykh Emad’s office, a policeman called Shaykh Emad on the telephone to ask about the permissibility of shooting unarmed protesters. Shaykh Emad was absolutely categorical – from within that same state institution – that this was absolutely forbidden (haram). Engagement with that state authority structure was something he did – certainly – but he did so on the basis of principle, and that principle included speaking truth to that same structure. As Dr Waleed Almusharaf reminded us, in what I describe as the “Husayni” aspect of Shaykh Emad Effat: “When the time for elections [in 2011] came, he declared, without fear of blame, his opinion that to vote for ex-members of the [Mubarak] regime is a sin outright, as it is to vote for anyone who has been proven to be corrupt, whether from the past regime or not.”

There was a sense of Shaykh Emad Effat bringing together what I would call the “Hasani” and the “Husayni” approaches to power. The former being an engagement with it, to minimize damage and lessen conflict. The latter being an opposition to it, through open declarations. For Shaykh Emad, they were intertwined – by consistency, by persistent adherence to principle, by a refusal to bow to authoritarianism of any type.


When it came to the clashes in late 2011, his wife said, “He wasn’t able to join the Cabinet sit-in, but when he saw [the violence], he couldn’t just stand and watch people dying, so he went down to the protest.” “He didn’t advocate violence,” she added. “He was there to show solidarity with the protesters.”

It might be too easy to say “different strokes for different folks” – because the implication is that there isn’t a consistent principle at play here. But the reality is that the Husayni way of open opposition is appropriate in some situations – and the Hasani way of minimizing damage in another – and they are both Prophetic. And they both revert back to that age old set of prescriptions for the duty of “forbidding the wrong and enjoining the good.” Is such engagement effective? What about those who suffer from that engagement? What about those who would suffer without such engagement? What is the extent of that engagement that is necessary? Can it be limited? Should it be?

And if one cannot do it right and properly – then the option of staying out of it is not a bad option in the slightest. But then we apply the principles consistently. If I learned anything from Shaykh Emad’s example, it was that just because one bad power is not as bad as another bad power, it does not give that lesser bad power immunity from justifiable critique. In the world of the good, the bad and the ugly, the existence of the bad doesn’t give the ugly a free pass. And even when it seems unrealistic and difficult, striving to be of the good is its own recompense, in his world and the next – even if it means you’re damned by both the bad and ugly in response.


But there were other nuances to Shaykh Emad’s life and witness, which were subtle, while immensely important. When Shaykh Emad went on protests, for example, he didn’t do so wearing his traditional Azhari garb. He purposely went almost incognito. His students knew he went on protests – and respected him for it – but he did not leverage his religious authority identity when he did so. He went as a son of Egypt, and even as a man of religion. Indeed, because he was a man of religion. He loathed the usage of religious imagery and language for unethical purposes. To one of his students, he said that he didn’t wear his Azhari garb, as he didn’t intend to represent the Azhari institution, nor Dar al-Ifta’, when he went on protests – he sought only to be there as an Egyptian concerned for his country’s future. “Love of one’s homeland is from faith” – a Prophetic narration that is questioned in terms of authenticity, but not in terms of meaning.

Ibrahim al-Houdaiby, also my friend, once tweeted about the massacre of the Copts in Maspero, which took place a couple of months earlier in Cairo. He declared that any talk which does not begin with the condemnation of the massacre, was “an affront to humanity and patriotism.” Shaykh Emad, who tweeted nine times in his life, added, “And to religion.”

That was the place of religious vocabulary in Shaykh Emad’s lexicon – to stand for truth against power, not in trying to explain away the abuses of power through verbal gymnastics. He was clear about that when it came to the Egyptian state – even though he worked in one of its institutions – and he was clear about it when it came to sectarianism. The Maspero massacre was nothing if not a sectarian outrage – perpetrated by state institutions, and defended by religious populists in the Brotherhood and others. Not Shaykh Emad.

I found that condemnation of the Maspero massacre doubly interesting, because it signified something very clear. It indicated to me – then, as it does now – that a man of religion like Shaykh Emad rejected authoritarianism and the use of power against the vulnerable by the powerful. Whether in the name of religion or otherwise; whether by the state, or by non-state actors. This, irrespective of his commitment to traditional Sunnism – or, I think he would say, because of that commitment. Shaykh Emad didn’t advocate complete disassociation from the corridors of power, though I believe he also respected this as a legitimate choice. But he was consistent.


In the years running up to the outbreak of the revolutionary uprising in Egypt in 2011, Effat wrote to al-Houdaiby, when he mentioned something about respect for shaykhs. The answering is telling:

“There are all these good words about respect for shaykhs, giving them leeway and excuses, but where is God’s right to His own religion? Where is the right of the public who are confused about the truth because shaykhs are silent, and your own silence out of respect for senior shaykhs? What is this new idol that you call pressure? How does this measure to Ahmed ibn Hanbal’s tolerance of jail and refusing to bend and say what would comfort the unjust rulers?”

“What is this new idol you invented? The idol of pressure! If we submit to these new rituals, to this new idol, we would then tolerate everyone who lies, commits sins and great evils under the pretext of easing pressure and escaping it. Oh people, these pressures are only in your head and not in reality. Is there a new opinion in jurisprudence that coercion can be by illusion? Have we come to use religious terms to circumvent religion and justify the greater sins we commit? So we use legitimate phrases such as pros and cons, the lesser of two evils, and pressure to make excuses for not speaking up for what is right and surrendering to what is wrong!”

“Shaykhs of Al-Azhar used to leave their resignations in the drawers of their secretaries and told them: if you see us submitting to pressure then hand over the resignation to the press. When they are honest to God, He makes them victorious and cherishes them.”


If there were two sentences I think summed up his life, it would be this one by his widow, followed by one of his students. The first was written about his life during the uprising – the second about his life, and his death, during the revolutionary period.

[Shaykh Emad] would go to work [in Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyya] in the morning and spend the night in the square. – Nashwa El-Tawwab

[Shaykh Emad] stood before the bullets and the rest of it. – Dr Waleed Almusharaf

But if I were given a chance to repeat something longer, perhaps it would be this – a recollection of his first lesson after Mubarak’s ouster in 2011, recalled by al-Houdaiby. Shaykh Emad was an exemplar of the inheritors of the Prophets – may we benefit from him, and may God perfume his resting place.

“I urge everyone, especially my students, to pause and reflect. The gauge is not the success of the revolution but taking a stand. Revolutions can be aborted, and sincere calls can be defeated. Some prophets, peace be upon them, will come alone on the Day of Judgment, some were killed, and that is not a measure of failure. Not at all; the gauge is one’s stand.

“Do not look at the consequence of what has happened but look at its nature and what it was. What was your position? Where were you? Why were some of us present in classes and at prayers, but absent at these blessed moments? We must reassess and hold ourselves accountable because God, with His mercy, extended our lives, and so this is an opportunity to re-evaluate. As long as we breathe there is room for repentance and revision. The end is the gauge. It is not too late. Perhaps what is coming is harder than what has passed.”

Ustadh Dr Hisham A. Hellyer (Biography from A Sublime Way: the Sufi Path of the Makkan Sages).

A noted scholar and author focusing on politics and religion, Dr Hisham A. Hellyer was born to an English father and to an Egyptian mother of Sudanese and Moroccan heritage and HHasani and ʿAbbasi lineage. He was raised between London, Cairo and Abu Dhabi, before receiving degrees in law and international political economy from the University of Sheffield, and a doctorate from the University of Warwick. He began researching Islamic law, theology and spirituality in his teens, keeping the company of and studying under a number of classically trained-scholars in the UK, Egypt, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and elsewhere, receiving ijāzāt from a number of them. They include the likes of Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, the former head of the fatwa department of South Africa’s Muslim Judicial Council, and the khalifa of the Makkan polymath and sage, Sayyid Muhammad b. Alawi al-Maliki.

Dr. Hellyer’s career has included positions at and affiliations with the Brookings Institution, Harvard University, the American University in Cairo, Cambridge Muslim College, and the Centre for Advanced Studies on Islam, Science and Civilisation (CASIS).

He is a frequent commentator and columnist in various media in the United States, Europe and the Arab world, and is included in the annual global list of The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the world (The Muslim 500). Among his written works are “Muslims of Europe: the ‘Other’ Europeans” (Edinburgh University Press), “A Revolution Undone: Egypt’s Road Beyond Revolt” (Oxford University Press) and “The Islamic Tradition, Muslim Communities and the Human Rights Discourse” (editor)(Atlantic Council). Dr Hellyer works between London, Washington DC, and Cairo, where he continues to research, teach, and study. @hahellyer

Was Uways al Qarni Martyred?

Shaykh Gibril Haddad gives a full and rounded answer to the question of the martyrdom of our master, Uways al Qarni, including biographical sources.


Assalam alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh.

1. Was our master Uways al Qarni, Allah be pleased with him, martyred in the Battle of Siffin while fighting on the side of our master Ali, Allah ennoble his face?

2. Could you relate a few narrations about Uways al Qarni, Allah be pleased with him, giving a general overview of his life?


The answer to your first question is yes, and when he was found they counted more than forty cuts on his body as narrated by Ibn ‘Asakir in Tarikh Dimashq (9:438).

This is also documented in Tabaqat Ibn Sa‘d (6:205), Mustadrak al Hakim (3:402) and Hilyat al Awliya (2:86). See also the end of the chapter on Uways in Al Dhahabi’s Siyar A‘lam al Nubala’.

Historically his grave was well-known and visited in Raqqa province, to which Siffin belonged. But I am not sure whether it still exists or was destroyed by the supposed upholders of Islamic civilization and statehood.

The most comprehensive source on the biography of our liegelord Uways al Qarni, Allah be pleased with him, is in Ibn ‘Asakir’s Tarikh Dimashq (9:208-455). There is also an interesting entry on him in Ibn Hajar’s Al Isaba fi Tamyiz al Sahaba and an all-too-brief monograph on him by Mulla ‘Ali al Qari entitled Al Ma‘dan al ‘Adani fi Fadl Uways al Qarni.

All but the last of the above sources also mention the alternative account of his death subsequent to an illness on the return of a trip to Azerbaijan with our master Umar ibn al Khattab, Allah be pleased with him. However, the Hafiz Ibn Hajar said its chain contained a discarded narrator.

On our master Uways, you can find something here in English. However I will cite something below which you might not find anywhere else.

Al Khallal narrated in his book Al Hathth ‘ala al Tijara wa al Sina‘a (The Encouragement to Trade and Industry):

I [Abu Bakr al Marrudhi] told Abu ‘Abd Allah [Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal] of a man who quit buying and selling and swore to himself that no gold or silver would ever fall into his hand again. He left his big house without giving any instructions regarding it. He would go on the road and if he saw anything discarded he would take it from the trash. I [al Marrudhi] said to that man: “What is your proof for this? I do not think you have any proof for it other than Abu Mu‘awiya al Aswad [one of the Abdal].” The man said: “Yes, I do. Uways al Qarni! He would pass by garbage heaps (mazabil) and collect rags.”

He [Ahmad] confirmed his words and said: “He is definitely too strict on himself!” (qad shaddada `ala nafsih). Then he said: “Two poor souls once came to me asking me something very similar to this. One of them said he goes on the road and finds something like vegetables and such. I told them: ‘Why not find work? Do you want to be notorious?‘ They only replied: ‘And what do we care about notoriety?’”

Al Khallal also narrated with his chain that a man asked Uways al Qarni: “From where will livelihood come?” Uways said: “Tell him: Truly we declare and do swear that those hearts, when they start doubting, no admonishment will benefit them!”

May Allah have mercy on him and grant us his intercession on the Day of Mutual Cries.

GF Haddad


Shaykh Ibrahim Osi-Efa on Sura Luqman–About Luqman the Sage

Sura Luqman emphasizes tarbiya, or spiritual growth, and is named after a great sage. In this series, Shaykh Ibrahim Osi-Efa explores the meanings of this chapter.

In this segment, Shaykh Ibrahim speaks more about the sage Luqman, whom the chapter is name after. He is described in the Qur’an;

And We had certainly given Luqman wisdom [and said], “Be grateful to Allah.” And whoever is grateful is grateful for  himself. And whoever denies  – then indeed, Allah is Free of need and Praiseworthy. (31:12)

Luqman was granted hikma (wisdom) but was not a Prophet himself. The soundest opinion is that Luqman was a Nubian from modern-day Sudan. As to his family, there is difference of opinion whether he was a cousin of Ayyub, or whether he was related to the Prophet Ibrahim. He lived for a thousand years, and the Prophet Dawud learned from him, just like the Prophet Musa was commanded to seek out Khidr for his wisdom. There were many Prophets who were educated by wise people, even though the Prophets were the best of creation.

The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “Wisdom is the lost property of the believer.” This teaches us that we should seek knowledge, even if it’s through someone who we feel is that lesser to us in age, wisdom or experience. Similarity, the people of Allah treasure being unknown and  obscure. The scholars of Madina would only each and give legal verdicts when they had to, and would be happy if someone else, who was more qualified, took over from them.

With gratitude to Greensville Trust.

Resources for Seekers

Should a Layperson Listen to an Unknown Scholar?

Answered by Shaykh Abdurragmaan Khan

Question: Assalam alaykum,

We often have scholars of different backgrounds visiting our community.

How should a layperson deal with this in order to get confused or misguided?

Answer: Wa alaykum al-Salam

May Allah reward for your question and concern.

You are very right in that one should be extremely careful where he or she receives Islamic Education. The layperson is required to consult traditional scholars whom they trust prior to receiving guidance and education from a scholar whose background is unknown.

Ibn Sirin, the famous successor and student of Anas ibn Malik, gave these guidelines almost fourteen hundred years ago when he said, “Indeed this matter is from Religion and be careful from whom you take your Religion”.

In the current world that we living in, many ideologies may seem attractive, however, we have noticed that methodologies that are not governed by the Quran, Sunnah and the way of the great scholars of Ahl al-Sunnah often leads to destruction. The various acts of terrorism and the large number of executions taking place in the middle east bares ample testimony to this.

The way of Ahl al-Sunnah has been preserved in the teachings of the four famous schools of jurisprudence; the doctrine documented by the scholars of the ‘Ash’ari and Maturidi schools; and the spiritual paths based on the way of Junayd al-Baghdadi.

Thank you for your question. May Allah bless and accept.

[Shaykh] Abdurragmaan Khan

Shaykh Abdurragmaan
received ijazah ’ammah from various luminaries, including but not restricted to: Habib Umar ibn Hafiz—a personality who affected him greatly and who has changed his relationship with Allah, Maulana Yusuf Karaan—the former Mufti of Cape Town; Habib ‘Ali al-Mashhur—the current Mufti of Tarim; Habib ‘Umar al-Jaylani—the Shafi‘i Mufti of Makkah; Sayyid Ahmad bin Abi Bakr al-Hibshi; Habib Kadhim as-Saqqaf; Shaykh Mahmud Sa’id Mamduh; Maulana Abdul Hafiz al-Makki; Shaykh Ala ad-Din al-Afghani; Maulana Fazlur Rahman al-Azami and Shaykh Yahya al-Gawthani amongst others.

Is Historical and Cultural Knowledge Important for a Scholar?

Answered by Shaykh Jamir Meah

Question: Assalamu alaykum

Is it important for an islamic scholar to know about history and cultural background to better understand the people he is advising or the world he is living in, or should he use his time to acquire only islamic knowledge?

Answer: Wa’alaykum assalam. Jazakum Allah khayr for your question. I pray this finds you in the best of states.

The acquisition of knowledge is gradual and should be systematic. This means prioritising what you learn at each stage. General knowledge of history is not essential knowledge in most cases, though can be useful and very important in other situations.

Prioritising Knowledge

How, when, and what knowledge one seeks largely depends on what age one starts seeking knowledge. A child will be able to study to both Islamic and broader subjects together, while someone setting out to study the Islamic sciences in adulthood must obviously prioritise. Most people in the West fall into the latter category.

The first thing everyone must learn is the personally obligatory knowledge. Once this has been learnt, then, if the desire still exists, then one can continue to pursue further studies, which would be fulfilling the communal obligation. During these stages, one should concentrate on their Islamic studies and not be too distracted by other sciences. If one wishes, they could set some time aside for extra-curricular reading.

Once a person has completed the bulk of their Islamic studies, then they may freely choose to explore other broader aspects of knowledge such as history and culture, and ensuring not to neglect Islamic history, which includes the seerah.

Is historical and cultural knowledge useful or essential?

The Prophet ﷺ has said, ‘Be avid for that which benefits you’. As such, anything that strengthens one’s faiths, or enables one to strengthen the faith of others, is praiseworthy. Every sound, beneficial knowledge compliments another, and doubtlessly makes a scholar a much more well-rounded individual, and broadens his thinking and ideas. This doesn’t just apply to scholars, but also to all Muslims.

Whether history is essential for a scholar really depends on the role of the scholar, his location, and the situation. As mentioned, in most cases, it is not essential for a scholar to study general history. For example, a scholar of tafsir only really needs to know history relevant to tafsir, a hadith scholar only in the context of hadith. As for a scholar of the Prophetic biography, then they need to know the history of events, while broader world history would certainly complete his knowledge, but cannot be deemed essential.

As for a jurist, a scholar of sacred law, it also depends on the situation being presented. A knowledge of history is never really necessary to reach a correct ruling, though there may be exceptions (see below). In regards to knowing the culture and customs of a people, this may not be necessary in some cases, highly preferable in others cases, and may be essential in a few situations.

In certain situations, legal rulings should only be issued from scholars of the actual area only, who have knowledge of the history, culture and customs, geo-politics, even climate if relevant, and the specific problems facing the Muslims in that area.

Another area where knowledge of culture and history might be essential is for the one calling people to Islam (da’wah). In these cases, one should gain knowledge of the local history, customs and traditions, as well the dominant beliefs, mind-set, and trends of the local people. To enter into da’wah without this knowledge, one cannot really understand the people and their backgrounds, and therefore any outreach would be limited, and maybe even inappropriate.

It goes without saying, that anyone calling people to Allah in their countries, should first ensure they have at least studied their own personally obligatory knowledge and gained a sound understanding and practice of the religion before speaking to others about it.


In conclusion, personally obligatory knowledge should always be prioritised. If one is engaged in communally obligatory knowledge, one should focus on those disciplines. Knowledge of history for a scholar is usually not essential, but is always useful. Knowledge of local customs and culture is always useful for a scholar, and sometimes can be very important and essential, depending on the role of the scholar and the specific situation. And Allah knows best.

I wish you all the best. May Allah grant you tawfiq in your studies.

Warmest salams,
[Shaykh] Jamir Meah

Shaykh Jamir Meah grew up in Hampstead, London. In 2007, he traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he spent nine years studying the Islamic sciences on a one-to-one basis under the foremost scholars of the Ribaat, Tarim, with a main specialization and focus on Shafi’i fiqh. In early 2016, he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continues advanced studies in a range of Islamic sciences, as well as teaching. Jamir is a qualified homeopath.

How Do I Know An Islamic Scholar/Website Is Legitimate? (Video)

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Question: Assalamu alaykum

How do I know an islamic scholar/website is legitimate?

Answer:  Wa’leykum Salam,

Here is a video answer by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani to this question:

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani is a scholar and researcher of Islamic law and Executive Director of SeekersHub Global After ten years overseas, Shaykh Faraz returned to Canada in the Summer of 2007. In May 2008 he founded SeekersHub Global to deal with the urgent need to spread Islamic knowledge—both online and on the ground—in a reliable, relevant, inspiring, and accessible manner. He has been repeatedly listed as one of the world’s 500 most influential Muslims (The Muslim500).

Why Do We Need Scholars When There’s Quran And Sunnah?

Quran and Sunnah?

Why do we need scholars? Why can’t we directly go to the Quran and Sunnah?  Shaykh Walead Mosaad talks about the central role of scholars in transmitting, contextualizing and teaching Islam. He gives a relevant example of the role scholars had in the preservation of the Quran.

Ever get caught out on these issues? Deepen your understanding by taking a short course with SeekersHub.

Resources for seekers:

Cover photo by Van Karsten.

“Signs of the Scholar of the Hereafter” – By Imam al-Ghazzali & Translated by Shaykh Nuh Ha Meem Keller

By Imam al-Ghazzali & Translated by Shaykh Nuh Ha Meem Keller in “Sea Without Shore”

[1] He does not seek this world by his religious learning, for at [the] very least a scholar is someone aware of this world’s wretchedness, triviality, sordidness, and ephemerality; and the next world’s magnificence, permanence, blessings, and vastness – and that the two are opposites.

[2] His deeds do not belie his words, and he does not tell anyone to do something without himself being the first to do it.

[3] He is devoted to knowledge beneficial in the next world, that which increases desire for acts of worship, and he shuns branches of religious learning that are of little benefit, or mainly debate and gossip.

[4] He is disinclined to luxury in food and drink, enjoyment of clothes, and embellishment of furnishings and housing, preferring less therein, emulating the early Muslims (Allah have mercy on them), and inclining towards the minimum in everything.

[5] He keeps as far from rulers as possible, never going to visit them as long as there is any way to evade them.

[6] He is reluctant to give formal legal opinion (fatwa), refrains from verdicts about matters unclear, and avoids giving opinions whenever he can.

[7] His main concern is knowledge of the inward and keeping watch over his heart, knowing the path of the next world and traveling it, knowing the path of the next world and traveling it, sincerely hoping to be shown it by combating his ego (mujahada) and spiritual vigilance over himself (muraqaba), since subduing the ego leads to beholding the Divine (mushahada).

[8] He perpetually strives to deepen his inward certitude (yaqin), which is one’s capital in religion.

[9] He is somber, subdued, bowed of head, and spare of words, the awe of the Divine being plain in his manner and dress, movements and rest, speech and silence. No one sees him without being reminded of Allah Most High, his mien bespeaking his works.

[10] He mainly seeks knowledge of spiritual works and what vitiates them, what disturbs the heart, what raises baseless misgivings (waswasa), and what provokes evil, for preventing evil is the basis of religion.

[11] He relies in his branches of learning upon genuine insight and what he knows from the bottom of his heart, not merely upon what he finds by reading treatises and books, or blindly repeating what he has heard another say. For the only one unconditionally followed is he who brought us the Sacred Law (Allah bless him and give him peace), in what he commanded and stated. The prophetic Companions are but followed because their deeds indicate what they heard from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace).

[12] He shuns spurious matters in religion newly begun [such as, for Ghazali, purely speculative scholastic theology], even if a scholarly majority adopt them, being undeceived by what was inaugurated after the Companions (Allah be well  pleased with them); but rather dedicating himself to learning how they were, and what they did in their lives.”

(Ihya’ ‘ulum al-din [33], 1, 53-70])

Resources for Seekers:

Love & Balance: Following Our Scholars to Allah
The threat to religious guidance – the importance of Spreading Prophetic Light
Is the hadith: “The scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets” authentic? If so, what does it mean?